Jonathan Wilcox
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Humour and the Exeter Book riddles
Incongruity in Feþegeorn (R.31)
in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition
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Incongruity is the sine qua non for humour, as any good humour theory will suggest, conjuring up an appropriately inappropriate doubleness. But incongruity alone is never sufficient to explain humour. This chapter brings together consideration of humour theory with the interpretation of Feþegeorn (R.31) to ponder whether riddles can provide a key to understanding the humour of early medieval England. Pinpointing humour always requires an awareness of the multiple frames within which the comic stimulus works. For literary humour, this requires a sensitivity to register (with implicit questions of expectations of genre) as well as to meaning (attending to the doubleness of diction) and to context (since performance and social context plays a significant role). Interpreting humour also requires a fine-tuned sense of the timing of the revelation of doubleness, and here memory plays a significant role, since earlier tellings (of a riddle or of a joke) allow an audience to usefully anticipate the upcoming resolution.

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